Read Matthew 22:34-40
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a scholar of the law tested him by asking, "Teacher, which... Read More…
Meet Sister Jo Ann Recker
Sister Jo Ann Recker, SNDdeN is a professor emerita of French in the Department of Modern Languages at Xavier University, Cincinnati, OH. Read More…
“God is love.” (I Jn. 4:8 and 16)
In his book, Doing the Truth in Love, Boston College theologian, Fr. Michael J. Himes, asserts that the “least wrong way to think and speak about God” who is “absolute mystery,” is to refer to the First Letter of John: “God is love.” But, as Himes continues, this love is of “a very peculiar sort: agape… a love which is purely other-directed, love which seeks no return… ‘pure self-gift.’” (pp. 9-10)
All three of today’s readings give us glimpses into understanding God’s goodness as manifested in God’s unconditional love. In the Book of Exodus, for example, the Lord urges believers to do no harm to society’s dispossessed: widows, orphans, foreigners, the poor. Why? Because true believers heed the urgings of a God who is “compassionate.”
In the second reading, the apostle Paul exhorts the new Christians of the Thessalonian community to become “imitators,” of the Lord by a willingness to suffer afflictions with joy in proclaiming their belief in Jesus. Indeed, by being “imitators” of the Lord, they become “models” for others to such an extent that words themselves become unnecessary.
Finally, in today’s Gospel, Jesus, the incarnation of God’s self-giving, compassionate love, is once again accosted by his main adversaries, the Pharisees, who seek to test him because they had heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees. Both the Pharisees and Sadducees were religious legalists. The former, mostly middle-class businessmen, gave equal weight to oral tradition and the written scriptures and believed in strict obedience to both. The latter, the Sadducees, primarily of the wealthy class, were more politically inclined. They held positions of power, among which were those of chief priest and high priest, and they considered only the written word to be from God and subject to observance.
On the other hand, Jesus, a practicing Jew, while respecting the law and the prophets, exemplified in word and deed that the needs of human persons, especially the outcasts of society – sinners, lepers, tax-collectors, Samaritans, the sick and possessed… were of higher importance and, thus, he cured on the Sabbath, protected prostitutes, held up the good Samaritan as an example to be emulated. Consequently, the only segment of society with which he came into conflict, a conflict that ultimately led to his death, were those who put law before love.
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” It should come as no surprise, then, that Jesus’ response was to cite what we know as the Golden Rule, a rule that is common to the world’s major religions: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Richard Rohr, O.F.M., a Franciscan priest and globally recognized ecumenical teacher, has affirmed that most religions have done a disservice to humanity in that, rather than being based on faith, which should involve a tolerance for ambiguity” (DVD series, “The Art of Letting Go,” Now You Know Media), they have wrapped their belief systems, their conceptions of God, in legalistic strictures. In so doing, they have tried to put “absolute mystery,” in their pockets, as it were, or in a box – an attempt doomed to failure and, historically, a cause of much harm.
May we accept the invitation provided by reflection on today’s readings to recommit ourselves to be imitators of Jesus in his preferential option for the poor and marginalized. May we be more open to receiving God’s self-giving love so as to be more able to reach out in compassion to all those in need of our acceptance and understanding, no matter the cost. This invitation is extended to us whether we are front-line activists, wheel-chair bound or bed-ridden. An open self-giving heart knows no boundaries and compassion has no limits.